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“We need your help with a Warlock problem,” said the woman from Human Resources. “But first, is ‘Warlock’ a term that’s appropriate for a business setting? I really haven’t had this kind of a problem before and I wouldn’t want to be using inappropriate language.”
“It’s a matter of personal preference,” replied Mister Lewis. “It would depend on your policy about gender specific terminology and the local history of its usage. The term can be a little touchy in Massachusetts, given the problems with persecution, but it’s also a technical term. Your mileage may vary, as they say.”
“Do you identify as a Warlock,” asked the woman from Human Resources.
“A Warlock? That’s not what it says on my business card.”
Indeed, Mr. Lewis had a business card that said “Physics Consultant.” It was something of an in-joke. While Mr. Lewis did consult, he consulted on things that fell outside the laws of physics and sometimes went bump in the night.
“I… see,” said the woman from Human Resources. “Well, I suppose Witches and Warlocks are not a protected class.”
“Not necessarily,” replied Mister Lewis. “Witches will still fall under gender protections and depending on the flavor of Witch or Warlock, there may be a basis for a religious discrimination suit. Legitimately.”
“I hadn’t thought about the religious implications,” said the woman from Human Resources.
“You could always try to contest the validity of the religion, but then you get a media circus and when you’re dealing with a Warlock, there’s always the possibility his deity shows up feeling wrathful about being slighted. It’s the sort of thing that’s best to be avoided.”
“Is everything I tell you strictly confidential?” asked the woman from Human Resources.
“Of course. I deal in discrete solutions.”
“Given the nature of the software business, our CEO and founder really frowns upon having staff over the age of 30. This is a little bit of a grey area, but I understand that Warlocks are sometimes much older than they physically appear?”
Mister Lewis paused, took a deep breath and exhaled slowly before answering.
“I wasn’t aware 30 was the mandatory retirement age in this country, but yes, sometimes a Warlock will be much older than he appears. Like the religious issue, it depends a bit on what kind of a Warlock he is.”
“Good to know,” said the woman from Human Resources. “I’ve been told to clear the decks of all employees over 30, so what I need your help with is identifying the Warlock and then documenting a separate case of actionable infractions so that we may successfully terminate his employment without concern for legal reprisals. The company comes first, so if we can’t document anything actionable, we’ll have to manufacture something once you’ve identified him.”
“I suppose the first step,” suggested Mister Lewis, “would be to determine if there’s really a Warlock or it’s just a case of assumptions being made.”
“If he’s not over 30, I’ll have to ask management if they still want to terminate him. You can’t age him if he’s not over 30 can you?”
“Causing a body to age doesn’t change the birthday,” Mister Lewis suppressed a groan but wasn’t able to stop his eyes from rolling.
“It’s probably easier for you to observe what’s happening,” said the woman from Human Resources as they left her office. “I’m sure I don’t know your trade jargon.”
“We can keep things to conversational English,” replied Mister Lewis. “What specifically has been happening?”
“Keep three feet behind me and watch the floor as soon as we turn that corner. You’ll get an eyeful.”
They came to the end of the hall and turned the corner. The woman from Human Resources looked back at Mister Lewis, flashed a smile that wasn’t smile, straightened her skirt and took a step forward. That’s when the floor changed underneath her.
The color drained out of what had been a dull beige carpet and when the color left, a reflective surface replaced it. She stepped forward and the reflected area expanded forward with her. After four steps, a wolf whistle sounded seemingly from nowhere and the carpet faded back to beige.
“There isn’t always a whistle,” said the woman from Human Resources.
“How long does it normally follow you,” asked Mister Lewis.
“It doesn’t always. Sometimes it appears as a wide circle you just have to walk out of. Sometimes it blinks in and out every other step. Once I saw the reflection of Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower on either side of me.”
“I see London, I see France,” Mister Lewis smirked. “I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess this only happens when someone’s wearing a skirt?”
“Yes. It’s clearly harassment, but so far there hasn’t been anyone to accuse. If it keeps up, the company will get sued regardless of who’s doing what and…”
“HR’s job is to protect the company,” Mister Lewis finished the sentence. “So you think we’re looking for a Warlock suffering from arrested development? Incidentally, has anyone worn a kilt in this office? It might be worth checking to see if gender is a spell trigger or just a type of garment.”
“Not that I’m aware of. Now observe.”
The woman from Human Resources reached into a cubicle and put a tentative hand on a chair. Slowly, she pulled the chair out into the aisle, keeping the back of the chair facing her. She then stepped in front of the chair, sat down and in an even and deliberate motion, swiveled the chair to face Mister Lewis. When the chair stopped moving, the sound of flatulence exploded forth. Again, she wore the smile that wasn’t a smile.
“Every chair, or just that chair,” asked Mister Lewis.
“Always this chair, but sometimes other chairs.”
“Men or women affected?”
“Just women. Now let’s go to the kitchen.”
So they went to the kitchen. It was a fancy kitchen as far as office kitchens went. Three microwaves. An expresso machine. Marble counters. A kegerator. And a large stainless steel refrigerator whose door the woman from Human Resources was opening.
She produced a small cardboard box. The box was bright red with “Garden of Healthy Delights” stamped on it in foil.
“This is a box lunch,” she said. “An expensive box lunch. Only the best for our employees. Open it up. You’ll find a vegan chicken sandwich with lettuce and a slice of vegan provolone on a gluten free bun.”
Mister Lewis opened the box and examined the sandwich he found inside.
“I’ve never really understood the point of a gluten free bun when vegan meat substitutes are made with wheat gluten.”
“Just take a bite.”
So Mister Lewis took a bite. He chewed twice and stopped.
“That’s right,” said the woman from Human Resources.
Mister Lewis spat the bite of sandwich into his left hand and poked at the remnants with the index finger of this right hand. Instead of lumps of wheat gluten, there had been actual chicken meat in his mouth.
He glanced back at the sandwich. No, that was definitely a meat substitute between the gluten free buns.
“Carnivorous transmogrification,” muttered Mister Lewis.
“If you took what you spit out to a lab, you’d find the bun wasn’t gluten free anymore, either.”
“And this happens some of the time or all of the time?”
“All of the time. And the gluten free buns always change to gluten. One of our programmers has Celiac disease. It’s a problem and we’ve incurred liability if he wants to press the point.”
“It definitely could be a Warlock,” mused Mister Lewis. “The reflections and… noises… could easily be poltergeist activity, but transmogrification usually isn’t.”
“We didn’t hire you for a poltergeist,” the woman from Human Resources cut him off. “You can’t fire a ghost. We’re going to have a lawsuit on our hands, maybe several, if we don’t fire somebody and blame this on them. Even if it were a ghost, I’d need to fire Charlie.”
“You’re that certain you know who’s causing this?”
“Mr. Foster says Charlie is the culprit and has to go. Mr. Foster’s word is law, so we’re just here to arrange it.”
The alleged Warlock sat in his chair, typing away at his computer. He was an engineer. A coder of programs. For all the suspicions that this was an aged sorcerer, he sure didn’t show the ravages of time. No, this alleged Warlock had the face of a fifteen year old boy. The kind of face where nobody believes his ID isn’t a fake when he tries to get a drink. But isn’t that what you’d expect someone to look like if they were clinging to youth by unnatural methods?
His attire didn’t really match his face. A tweed sport coat with patches on the elbows over a plaid sweater vest over an Oxford shirt with a bright red bow tie. He dressed like a retired professor who spent his days in a private club alternating between snifters of brandy and naps.
Mister Lewis and the woman from Human Resources gazed at the alleged Warlock from over the cubical wall behind him.
“Mr. Foster is right,” hissed the woman from Human Resources. “No twentysomething coder would ever dress like that.”
“Are you sure he’s not just a hipster dressing ironically,” asked Mister Lewis.
“No, coders wear hoodies. It’s their uniform. I almost didn’t hire Charlie because he didn’t wear a hoodie.”
“I didn’t realize programming was a customer facing position.”
“Of course not. But when there aren’t enough programmers to go around, we encourage their herd mentality. If they assume that wearing the hoodie is their version of a suit and tie, it lets them feel special without cultivating actual individuality. As long as they think they’re in uniform, it keeps them insecure and full of self-doubt. You don’t need individuals on an assembly line and that’s what large scale coding is. You need meek worker bees in hoodies with their heads down.”
Mister Lewis watched the alleged Warlock typing away.
“He looks like he’s a fast worker,” whispered Mister Lewis. “Is he considered fast?”
“He’s actually our fastest.”
“Then I think it’s time we were introduced.”
The alleged Warlock was oblivious to their approach, in that peculiar mental place that is simultaneously zoned out and locked in on his work. Mister Lewis peered over the alleged Warlock’s shoulder and noticed something odd. While the alleged Warlock’s fingers were gliding over the keyboard, he wasn’t actually pressing any keys. And even if he had been, the characters were appearing on the screen faster than he would have been typing.
“Everything good today Charlie,” the woman from Human Resources said a little too loudly and a little too smarmily.
The alleged Warlock jumped a little as he looked up. Characters continued appearing on the screen for two seconds after his hand left the keyboard.
“Um, fine” squeaked the alleged Warlock. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“I’m just showing a visitor around the office.”
She gestured towards Mister Lewis.
As she brought up her hand to make that gesture, it brushed against her skirt and the color started draining from the carpet. As the floor turned into a carpet textured mirror, Mister Lewis looked in the reflection of the alleged Warlock’s face. He still looked like he was fifteen years old. A fifteen year old boy who was startled and not quite able to process what was being reflected beneath the woman from Human Resources, who coughed and quickly stepped back. The reflective surface did not follow her this time and faded away.
“Time for the rest of the tour,” the woman from HR said, already walking away from the cubicle.
“You saw that,” she growled when they were out of earshot.
“I saw three things, which one are you talking about?”
“That mirror under my skirt.”
“Which seems to appear all over this office. Suspicious, but circumstantial at this point.”
“Well, what about how fast he was typing?”
“There’s something going on there, alright. It isn’t necessarily related to your other problems, though. Surely you wouldn’t fire somebody for being a fast programmer?”
“I’d fire him for being an ancient Warlock and polluting our corporate culture in a heartbeat.”
“Yes, well that’s the sticking point. When that magic mirror popped up under you, I looked at his reflection in it and he still looked like a kid.”
“Why would his magic not work in a mirror? We have lots of mirrors here.”
“Yes, but when you look at an enchanted reflection, you normally see what’s real, not an illusion. It means one of two things. Either he’s really that young or he’s very scary and we need to be cautious.”
“Mister Lewis, this is our CEO, John Foster,” the woman from Human Resources said as she and Mister Lewis peered through the doorway of an office that looked more like a clubhouse. Three men were in the room if men was the right word. It wasn’t clear if any of them were old enough to have graduated from college. All wore dark grey hoodies with the logo of their company on them. Two sat in overstuffed chairs along the back wall, one holding the funnel end of a beer bong aloft for the other who was chugging away. The CEO was bent over his deck while holding an oversized silver goblet.
“Good to see you Toots,” the CEO didn’t bother looking up from the oversized book on his desk he was pouring over. “We can’t seem to find a good title for our new hire in The Big Book of $tartup $ucess. Is Vice President of Hospitality a good title or is Chief Hospitality Officer better?”
“Is this for the waitress,” the woman from Human Resources face didn’t actually move when she spoke. It was that near omnipresent smile that wasn’t really a smile and the words came through her teeth. Mister Lewis couldn’t quite make up his mind if she wasn’t the sincere sort or she hated her life.
“No, that would be boring,” said the CEO. “She’s the VIP hostess at the Modesty House nightclub. It’s going to be great. We hire her half time and we’ll get our drinks comp’d. Then we can take clients and investors there and we don’t have to pay for entertainment expenses. And then she can hang around the office and greet people when they come in.”
“I think that’s called a receptionist,” her voice continued to come through her teeth.
“No, no,” said the CEO. “She won’t be nearly appreciative enough while she’s hanging out in the office if we don’t give her a big title. I just want to make sure it’s all by the book.”
“He means The Big Book of $tarup $uccess,” the woman from Human Resources, desperate to change the subject, turned to Mister Lewis. “It’s this year’s management fad. There’s a new one every year. Six Sigma. Lean. As long as there’s a numbered list of steps, preferably in a circle and you follow those steps to the letter, investment money will pour in and you’re guaranteed a success. $tarup $uccess is the new new thing.”
“Business needs to have immutable laws – like physics does,” the CEO stood up. He wasn’t as baby-faced as the alleged Warlock, but he’d still have trouble when he got carded. Perhaps hiring a hostess would cut down on questions of whether he was old enough to drink, too. “All we have to do is follow the book and give the investors what they want. Step one: book. Step three: money. But I can’t find the right title for her in the book.”
“We should focus on the matter of the firing,” subject changed, she tried to steer the conversation back to what was originally intended. “Mister Lewis has met Charlie.”
“Great,” the CEO took a pull from his goblet. “How are we getting rid of the ancient bastard?”
“We haven’t established that he’s ancient… yet,” replied Mister Lewis. “The concern about his age comes from that book?”
“Absolutely,” the CEO also had a smile that lacked sincerity. “Chapter 3. ‘And the great god Zuckerberg said “I want to stress the importance of being young and technical. Young people are just smarter.” So shall be your hiring policy. Suffer not the aged employee, for he will negotiate and go home for supper.’ All the investors agree. Younger is better. They loved me because I dropped out of Crocker University before I could even get a transcript. I have no baggage that keeps me from saying yes to the money.”
“The great god Zuckerberg?”
“Absolutely. Startups are religion. It’s a lot like the gospel of prosperity, really. Founders are to be worshiped and liquidation events are our eternal reward. The management book is our commandments. Some of the investors are even angels. Having aged workers violates a commandment and will be frowned upon by the investors. We need to keep the cash flowing and follow those commandments.”
The woman from Human Resources cleared her throat.
“We also need to address the source of these mysterious mirrors and the kitchen problems and avoid litigation.”
“I like the mirrors,” slurred the hoodie-wearing bro on the receiving end of the beer bong.
“So do I,” said the hoodie-wearing bro on the funnel side of the beer bong.
“It can’t be helped. While Mister Lewis cannot confirm Charlie is older than he looks, he agrees with your suspicions about him.”
“It takes a thief to catch a thief,” said the CEO, his eyes narrowing a bit.
“Something like that.” Mister Lewis frowned. “It could be he’s the lightest touch typist I’ve ever seen, or else he’s typing with his mind. It’s inconclusive, in terms of the manifestations you’re having trouble with. It might not be related, but it’s suspicious and I’ll be taking a closer look at him. That said, there are no indications that he’s any older than he appears to be.”
“He’s probably got an old soul,” the CEO said with a chill in his voice. “Investigate and shit. Make the investors happy. I’m the CEO. I really shouldn’t need a reason if I want to fire someone. Failing fast isn’t just about startups, it’s about employees, too.”
“But Mr. Foster,” the woman from Human Resources interrupted. “Failing fast was from the previous management fad. We don’t want to cause confusion by mixing fads.”
“Perhaps there’s something to be said for tradition,” muttered the CEO. “Just get to it.”
“I’ll observe and report,” said Mister Lewis.
“You do that,” said the CEO. “And Toots, what title should we use with the new hire?”
“Vice President of Hospitality or Chief Hospitality Officer,” asked the woman from Human Resources.
“If in doubt, we can spin it to the investors that we’re creating an innovative new C-level position. The C.H.O.”
“Yeah, I was leaning that way. But I don’t think we should just call it by the initials. I think we should call it the C-HO. Makes her sound more… accommodating. And isn’t that what hospitality is all about?”
The woman from Human Resources shuddered involuntarily as she left the room.
The alleged Warlock left work at 5 pm on the dot. It occurred to Mister Lewis that such a departure was in keeping with the management book his clients clung to so fiercely, should the alleged Warlock turn out to be an “aged employee.”
The alleged Warlock either wasn’t good at spotting a tail or was unaware that he should be looking for one. In an office where people seemed to have certain traits of either heightened focus or obsessive compulsive disorder, it made the big picture a bit more ambiguous. Down the street, take a left, up three blocks, left another two and then he stopped in a park and planted on a bench.
A rendezvous or a habit? For five minutes, no one approached him and he sat with a faraway look on his face. People passed, still he sat, gazing into the distance. Ten minutes. Fifteen minutes. And then he was finally approached by a stray beagle.
Or was it a stray? The dog was borderline mangy, but it walked straight to him and was staring him square in the eye. Could it be the alleged Warlock had a Familiar?
The alleged Warlock stood up, patted his leg as though he wanted the dog to follow and walked towards the edge of the park. The dog did follow. Before he left the park, the alleged Warlock plucked two flowers from a bed. He walked north for a block and turned into an alley. The dog followed him.
By the time Mister Lewis had closed the block’s distance he’d been following at, the alleged Warlock and the dog were deep in the alley. The alleged Warlock had placed the flowers on the ground and was twirling a silver chain roughly 20 inches long over the flowers. The flowers were melting into a liquid. After the liquid pooled, it rearranged itself into a not quite crescent shape and started to grow, like air being blown into plastic. It started to take on the texture of meat. Half of it turned red, half of it collapsed into shreds of a flower stem.
The dog pounced on the half that looked like meat and started chewing.
“You’re new at transmogrification,” said Mister Lewis. “I see you’ve got some talent transforming plants into meat, but increasing the volume during transmogrification is tricky. It works better when you’re just changing a vegan sandwich to meat and it stays the same size.”
“Do I know you,” the no longer alleged Warlock’s head spun around and he dropped his silver chain.
“We met at the office. And we need to talk about the office. About the kitchen and the mirrors and the breaking of wind. But we can start with the kitchen.”
“I don’t work at that office anymore,” said the Warlock. “I don’t think the kitchen really matters anymore.”
“Mr. Foster had a talk with me about it yesterday. I feed strays this way and I was practicing on a sandwich and… look, I really don’t know why it turned into a curse and keeps doing the transformations on its own. Mr. Foster said he’d give a good reference, but that today would be my last day.”
“I don’t think he’s intending for this to be quite so friendly,” said Mister Lewis. “Where’d you learn to turn carpet into a reflective surface and mimic the movements of its targets?”
“Oh, that wasn’t me. I’m not really that advanced. I’ve only been doing this for a couple months.”
“Let me guess. Dropped out of college?”
“No, I graduated early. I started learning magic to help me type faster. You can’t really use dictation software if you don’t have an office, so it seemed like the most efficient thing. And then, you know, feeding animals.”
“You signed your termination papers and left?”
“No. He just told me this would be my last day. It’s OK. Everybody there is kind of mean. I was thinking about looking for a new job anyway.”
“And what about the fart noises in the office?”
“I don’t really do audio. I/O interface manipulation for the typing, which is harder than it sounds and then I’m trying to learn basic transmogrification for food. I mean, everything else magic in the office is about women. I wouldn’t know how to make gender trigger a conjuring.”
“When you frame it that way, it does pose a question. By the way, what’s the story with your Familiar?”
Mister Lewis gestured towards the stray beagle, which had finished its meal. It was shifting its gaze between Mister Lewis and the Warlock… and it seemed less mangy and larger than when it had entered the alley.
“I don’t have a Familiar,” replied the Warlock. “That’s just a stray and… are his eyes glowing?”
The beagle’s eyes were indeed glowing.
“That’s not a dog,” said Mister Lewis. “Come towards me slowly. We need to get out of the alley.”
The Warlock took a step backwards toward the mouth of the alley and the dog started to change. Its limbs extended, the claws on its paws extended, its jaw extended and teeth with it. And then it spoke.
“Hey assholes,” said the not-quite-dog. “I speak English, too.”
And then it jumped on the Warlock.
The Warlock screamed as he fell backwards and the not-quite-dog’s claws dug into his chest, but he managed to twist away from its snapping jaws.
Mister Lewis stepped into a kick and managed to get a foot between the Warlock and the creature, knocking the creature back a couple feet. As it tumbled, the creature continued to grow, looking more bipedal by the second.
“Get out of here and go to ground,” Mister Lewis said to the Warlock. “Out of the city.”
“You realize I can track him by smell, smart guy,” said the creature as it stood on it hind legs and struck a pose that was either from a body building contest or a pro wrestling rerun. “Look at these muscles. They’re going to beat you and then I’m going to eat you.”
The Warlock ran.
“That trail of blood makes it even easier,” called the creature after him.
Mister Lewis squared himself against the creature, which wasn’t done posing. Never turn your back on something that might be able to outrun you, and it looked like it might be fast. It wasn’t standing as tall as Mister Lewis and it wasn’t thick, but the muscles were wiry and there plenty of claws and teeth. It wasn’t clear is this was going to be a fair fight, but it beat getting bitten in the back of the neck while trying to run away.
The creature charged, running like a man.
It probably would have outrun Mister Lewis, who slid right and stuck a knee into the creature’s side as it went by. The claws on a paw raked his upper arm, cutting through the sleeve of his jacket and drawing blood, but the creature lost its balance and crashed into a dumpster.
As the creature collected itself, Mister Lewis reached down and picked up the Warlock’s silver chain.
“How do you feel about enchanter’s silver,” Mister Lewis asked the creature.
The creature didn’t reply.
“Hard to use when you’re dead,” said the creature as it charged again.
Mister Lewis tossed the chain into the creature’s face. Despite being a gentle toss born by the flick of a wrist, the chain took a chunk out of the creature’s face and ruptured it’s right eye before falling to the ground.
The creature howled in pain as it dropped to one knee.
“Disrupts your form, doesn’t it,” Mister Lewis asked the creature which was trying to stand up, one paw over the ruptured eye. He leaned over and retrieved the silver chain.
As it stood up, Mister Lewis slipped the silver chain around its neck, pressed his knee into its back and pulled. Instead of garroting the creature, the silver chain slowly worked its way through its neck, dissolving the flesh like it was acid.
The creature flailed until the head fell off. It didn’t bleed.
Mister Lewis tossed the head and torso in the dumpster and dropped a match in after them before shutting the lid.
“I’ve got good news and bad news,” said Mister Lewis as he walked into the Human Resources office. “The good news is that your boy Charlie really is a Warlock.”
“What happened to your arm,” asked the woman from Human Resources, eyeing the torn sleeve and dried blood.
“That’s the bad news. He really isn’t any older than he looks and while he did cause the problem in the kitchen, he didn’t have anything to do with your mirror problem. And something tried to eat him. He’s not your only Warlock.”
“But your arm?”
“Something tried to eat me, too. I have poor reactions when things try to eat me.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” said the woman from Human Resources who was flashing the insincere smile again.
“Where’s my C-HO,” bellowed the CEO as he stuck his head in the door.
“The candidate is late for her interview,” sighed the woman from Human Resources.
“Where’s my Warlock,” bellowed the CEO.
“Which Warlock,” replied Mister Lewis. “You have more than one.”
Before the CEO could respond, the color faded from the carpet and the reflections returned.
“That’s it,” screamed the woman from Human Resources. “Enough. Everyone out.”
“Right,” said the CEO, but before his head bobbed out of the doorway, Mister Lewis caught his reflection in the floor. The reflection of someone well over retirement age.
“I’ll just go talk with Mr. Foster,” said Mister Lewis, exiting with haste.
The CEO was in his clubhouse of an office sipping from his oversized silver chalice. The two brogrammers with the beer bong were still in their chairs, but they’d switched which one was on the receiving end of the bong.
“Would you like a magazine,” asked the CEO, who held up an old issue of Hustler. “Print is so retro, and isn’t it ironic we’d have it in the office?”
“You need to level with me about the youth thing,” Mister Lewis approached the desk.
“It’s in the management book and the investors prefer to fund by the book.”
“No. When the mirrors lit up the HR office, I saw your face. Your real face. What’s up with the youth thing?”
“Ah,” sighed the CEO. “I suppose it takes one to know one.”
“Let’s just say I’m experienced in these matters. Why the charade?”
“Oh, it really is about the money. You’ve never heard investors talk about how they invest in the people, not the product? I’m just giving them the type of person they’ve been looking for. And for the last decade, they’ve been looking for scrawny college dropouts who resemble the one who struck it big. People can be so shallow.”
“How long have you been running this scam?”
“This is my fourth persona. If you look the part and sign whatever they put in front of you, money falls from the sky. You overpay yourself, lavish yourself with perks, divert a little money into items that leave with you like this lovely silver cup and nobody looks very close when a startup fails. They usually want the founder to walk away, rather than question why the deal he signed makes sure he’s the only one who doesn’t get paid in the breakup. Ride the wave, put on a new face, then ride again. And for once you’re not worried about laundering your income. Besides, you can’t beat startup culture for a good time. Do anything you want and nobody complains as long as they have aspirations of participating in an IPO. Wouldn’t want to be banished for being a prude.”
“So what was the deal with the Charlie kid,” asked Mister Lewis.
“HR thought we might have a prude in the office, so we needed a scapegoat. He was obvious and handy. At least until I can do something about the prude. The Big Book of $tartup $uccess is very clear on this: no negative opinions can be permitted and you fire anyone who disagrees with you. Not that I need a book to tell me that, but it does make the lifestyle easier to maintain… I assume by the look of your arm, you saw what happened to Charlie. How much is this going to cost me?”
“Here’s the thing,” said Mister Lewis. “I take it personally when something tries to eat me. Also, the kid’s alive. Your creature, not so much.”
“You killed my Familiar,” the CEO tilted his head as though in contemplation.
“Beheaded it, if you want to be specific. The remains are in a dumpster fire, but I’m guessing it burns easy and doesn’t leave much ash.”
The CEO tilted his head from left to right, lifted his right hand and gestured at Mister Lewis with two fingers. The two brogrammers dropped the beer bong and stood up.
“Those two are supposed to intimidate me,” asked Mister Lewis.
“Why is it you think I only have one Familiar? If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this tech business, it’s the importance of redundant backups.” The CEO snapped his fingers and the brogrammers started changing form, just like the dog creature in the alley.
Mister Lewis stepped back and drew the silver chain from his pocket, but has soon as it came free, it flew out of his hand across the room and fell in the far corner.
“That would explain a few things,” said the CEO. “But let’s play this round straight.”
The Familiars charged.
Mister Lewis managed to catch the first Familiar with an elbow and knock it aside, but the second one hit him straight on and drove him into the wall next to the door. He managed to get a forearm under the jaws and keep them pushed back and inch from his throat as they snapped.
Frustrated with its lack of chewing, the Familiar tossed Mister Lewis across the room towards the first Familiar. The first Familiar backhanded him and he crashed into the desk.
“I’m ready for an aperitif,” the CEO stared down at Mister Lewis and took a sip from his silver goblet.
The first Familiar approached. It must have been excited, as its teeth were dripping saliva like a leaky faucet. It growled and crept closer. The CEO stared down and grinned.
As the first Familiar was upon him, Mister Lewis reached up, snatched the silver goblet out of the CEO’s hand and swung it hard at the first Familiar’s head. The first Familiar’s head caved and it fell to the ground with a goblet-shaped indentation in its skill.
The second Familiar howled and charged, but Mister Lewis met the charge by thrusting the goblet forward into its face, collapsing the upper jaw and burying the rim of the goblet three inches into the second Familiar’s face, the way a child would press a bucket into the sand at the beach. He released the goblet and the second Familiar slumped to the floor.
“Fine,” the CEO started to raise his arms, but before he could, Mister Lewis locked a hand around his throat.
“Be very careful what comes out of your mouth,” said Mister Lewis. “I saw your true image and I don’t think ancient Warlocks are as hardy as their Familiars.”
“Mr. Foster, your interview is here,” came the call of the woman from Human Resources, who walked into the office accompanied by a young woman in a very short and very sparkly dress who could only be the VIP hostess being considered for Chief Hospitality Officer.
“He’s a little busy,” said Mister Lewis as he switched his hold from an open hand choke to lightly squeezing the throat with the crook of his other arm.
The color didn’t fade from the floor, so much as the mirrored surface appeared in a flash.
The woman from Human Resources and the Chief Hospitality Officer candidate stared at the dead Familiars on the floor and the wizened reflection of the CEO.
“I think I’m having a flashback,” stammered the Chief Hospitality Officer candidate.
“Perhaps you should go and we can reschedule,” said the woman from Human Resources. Now her smile was sincere, but it still wasn’t pleasant.
The Chief Hospitality Officer candidate left in a hurry.
The woman from Human Resources stepped forward as Mister Lewis dragged the CEO out from behind the desk and forced him down on his knees, face leaning towards the mirrored floor.
“Do you accept this as proof of the Warlock’s identity,” asked Mister Lewis, nodding towards the CEO’s reflection.
“Do you accept what you see here as documentation of infractions?”
“Do you accept you have no job without me,” growled the CEO.
“I wouldn’t say that,” said the woman from Human Resources, positively beaming. “You’re hardly the first founder or CEO to get caught misbehaving. Line of succession steps are very clearly enumerated in The Big Book of $tartup $uccess. Oh, and I have the next most equity, don’t I?”
“Is that why you wanted a consultant,” the CEO eyes were wider in their reflection than in the youthful mask they wore outside it.
“I’m not an idiot,” she replied. “All the perverts sit in your office. There were only four choices and they all were equity clawbacks. It was suspicious that Croker University didn’t have admission records on you. Now it looks like all four pieces of equity will be returning to the company. I’m sure the investors will appreciate how I’m not just heading off a lawsuit, I’m also reclaiming value.”
“I bet those investors are going to look closer at the dropouts after this,” chuckled Mister Lewis. “It was nice while it lasted.”
“No,” the CEO’s eyes grew wild and Mister Lewis tightened his grip around his neck. “Not this way.”
“You had a different exit in mind,” asked the woman from Human Resources.
“Yes,” screamed the CEO. “Dust before dishonor.”
The CEO suddenly shifted his weight forward, bringing himself and Mister Lewis to the floor. When his face came in contact with his reflection, the image of youth disappeared.
Then he turned grey.
Then he crumbled to dust.
“Does this change anything in that line of succession you were talking about,” asked Mister Lewis as he brushed himself off.
“No, you’d be surprised how many founders and CEO’s flake out and disappear,” said the new CEO. “Not usually that kind of flaking, but that’s also in the book. Everything will work out the way I wanted.”
“In that case, you’ll probably want to play it safe and scatter his dust. Those bodies will burn cleanly without residue. If our business is concluded, could I get a check for my fee? Procedures in the book or not, I think I’d like to cash it right away.”